Legend had it that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was an illiterate incapable of signing his own name and filmmaker John Sayles contributed to this perception in his film Eight Men Out when he portrayed Jackson signing a fictional 1920 confession with a shaky and tremulous “X.”
Sayles’ portrayal of the disgraced slugger, however, was based more on folklore than fact, for the real Joseph Jefferson Jackson was capable of signing his own name as evidenced by a wide array of surviving legal documents executed during his lifetime. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, contracts, real estate agreements, court transcripts and identification documents issued by the state of South Carolina have survived and are the best tangible proof that Jackson could actually sign his name. These genuine documents serve as proof that authentic signatures do exist of the legendary player who was banned from the game and has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fueled by the legend and the folklore, the value of Jackson-signed items has skyrocketed over the past few decades as evidenced by the sale of a signed 1916 promissory note that recently fetched close to $130,000. But with sales prices of Jackson signatures are setting records, acquiring a Jackson signature still remains a very dangerous proposition for any collector hoping to secure an authentic scrawl of the Greenville native.
It all started back in the late 1980’s when real Jackson signatures were virtually non-existent and highly sought after by major collectors like Barry Halper. Halper believed he had a genuine Jackson signature but it was actually a ghost-signed version penned by his wife. It wasn’t until 1989 that Katie Jackson’s signatures were dismissed as secretarial and a year later autograph auctioneer Herman Darvick offered what he claimed was an authentic signature of Jackson allegedly cut from a legal document. The signature looked entirely different than any of the signatures that Mrs. Jackson had sent back to collectors who had written to her husband at their home in Greenville, South Carolina.
Halper’s quest to acquire Jackson’s signature in Darvick’s auction was covered on the pages of The Sporting News by his close friend and personal PR-man, Bill Madden. Halper had already boasted to Madden about owning Jackson’s Black Sox jersey from 1919 and his famous “Black Betsy” bat, both of which he said he acquired from Jackson relatives in the mid 1980’s. But Halper had come to the realization he didn’t own an authentic Jackson signature and when Darvick’s appeared he was prepared to pursue it aggressively to fill the hole in his collection.
When it was all said and done, however, Halper lost the signature in a fierce bidding war with New York dealer and auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, who ended up winning it for $23,100. Halper regretted losing out on the signature and after the sale approached Evans with an offer to trade him game-used jerseys of Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn and Jim Palmer for the Jackson signature. Evans took him up on the offer and Halper subsequently told Madden, “I hated parting with those uniforms, I have others of all three players. Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance at an authentic “Shoeless”‘ Joe Jackson autograph?”
After Halper’s acquisition, Leland’s advertised their purchase at Darvick’s auction as being the “largest sum ever paid for any 19th or 20th century autograph. Darvick claimed that the Jackson cut signature he sold originated from a Jackson relative, but during that same time period a close Jackson family friend sold an authentic cache of Jackson signed legal documents and financial instruments to Dan Knoll, a prominent memorabilia dealer from Chicago. The first of those documents, a 1916 mortgage promisory note signed by Jackson, made its way into a 1993 Lelands sale where the auctioneer described the document as the “first verifiably authentic Joe Jackson autograph offered.” When world renowned handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, examined the genuine Lelands document, he deemed the $23,000 Darvick cut signature a forgery. The genuine Lelands document was purchased at auction by Barry Halper for over $25,000. Several other authentic Jackson mortgage notes followed the Lelands offering and appeared for sale throughout the 1990’s but during that same time period Herman Darvick sold several other highly questionable Jackson’s including another cut signature, a baseball, a photograph and a signed book.
When examined and compared closely to the unimpeachable examples of Jackson’s genuine signature on legal documents, all of the alleged Jackson signatures sold by Darvick exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery. The Darvick examples appear to be slowly executed, almost drawn, with laborious heavy strokes that lack the spontaneity and flow of genuine Jackson signatures. One of the most telling characteristics of the forgeries is found in the last end stroke of Jackson’s “n” which tapers to a needle-like point in most all of Jackson’s authentic signatures, but stops abruptly with a thick ink build-up in the forged examples. Although Jackson appears to be very deliberate in what some say is his “drawing” of his own signature, the authentic examples all share a common flow and spontaneity.
We asked several experts to examine the alleged Jackson autographs sold by Darvick and give us their opinions:
-Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, said: “Joe Jackson’s autograph is an extreme rarity and limited to signed legal documents or signatures removed therefrom. The Jackson signed book, featured on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, is, in my opinion, a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.” As for Darvick’s signed photo and ball, Keurajian does not believe there are any genuine signatures of Jackson that exist on either baseballs or photographs.
-Josh Evans recalled his purchase of the first Jackson cut from Darvick’s auction in 1990 and told us, “I always regretted that one. I never actually saw it before I bought it if you can believe that (the good old days). I heard about it the day before and bid based on Darvick’s rep. I sold it to Halper and we spoke about it being questionable but he never agreed.” HOS has been unable to determine when Halper disposed of the Jackson forgery and who subsequently acquired it.
-Mike Nola, is not a handwriting or autograph expert but he is a Jackson historian who curates the website BlackBetsy.com, and he told us: “He (Jackson) could not really sign his name. He was simply following a pattern taught to him by (his wife) Katie. If you look closely at each of his known signatures, they all differ in some way because he was drawing the signature and no two would be exactly alike.”
-Olan Chiles, was a well known collector of autographs on checks and lived in Greenville, SC. as a youth. A veteran autograph collector with over thirty years experience knew Chiles who told him first hand accounts of meeting Jackson in person. The collector told us: ”Olan told me he used to visit Jackson and his wife often at their liquor store and always asked for an autograph. He would be handed a pre-signed item (signed by the wife). In all the time he knew Jackson he was NEVER able to acquire an authentic autograph, which tells me that the signing process for him must have been so laborious that he only did it when he absolutely had to.”
As for Darvick’s examples of Jackson he said, “I did not like any of them” and added, “The point I was trying to make initially (regarding Chiles) is that (if) someone who was positioned so close to Jackson and was unable to secure an autograph, this leads me to believe that the group the family cut loose represents probably the only authentic Joe Jackson signatures in the public domain. His signature is just too easy to replicate.”
Herman Darvick has worked as an authenticator for PSA/DNA and is currently listed on the SGC website as a staff member and on the JSA website as one of Jimmy Spence’s experts with his “field of expertise” being “historical” and “political” autographs. The Darvick bio on the JSA site also references the Joe Jackson forgery stating that Darvick handled “the first authentic signature of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson ever sold.” An embarrassing episode for both Darvick and JSA occurred recently when the History Channel’s hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars featured a Darvick-authenticated Jackson autograph signed on a book (the bottom signature in the above illustration). Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison allegedly purchased the book for $13,000 with an LOA from Darvick and was then told by PSA/DNA it was their opinion that the signature was not genuine.
When the Pawn Stars episode aired Mike Nola added some additional information about Jackson’s signing habits when he posted on a collector forum: “I interviewed Eugene Estes (and that name means little to history, except that he witnessed Joe signing his will). Mr. Estes told me that Joe struggled to sign his name, that he practiced on the back on an envelope three times before setting pen to paper on the Will. Mr. Estes said Joe stopped several times during the signing, which in my opinion would make it looked “traced”. Now, I am not saying PSA got it wrong, but there is enough reasonable doubt in my mind that if I were Rick Harrison, I’d have it forensically tested for period ink and that the ink had been on the page for a period of between 1947 (when the book was published) and December 5, 1951 (The date Joe Jackson ceased to be a living entity). The signature on the book looks different than the one that appears on his will, but the one on his will appears different that the one that appears on his 1941 mortgage note and that one appears different that the one on his 1949 drivers license. In other words…..all his signatures differ somewhat, since he was just tracing a pattern taught to him by his wife Katie. I sent Rick Harrison an email and told him as much.”
Since the time Hauls of Shame reported and identified the book authenticated by Darvick as a forgery, the JSA authenticator posted several comments on this site defending his certification stating, “If anyone was going to forge Joe Jackson’s signature on the book, he/she would have used Mrs. Jackson’s Joe Jackson signature to copy. Her signing of her husbands name appeared in many collections as an authentic Joe Jackson autograph. Collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before I sold this signature which was cut from as building document with a partial date (of) April 1936 typed on the verso.” Declining to address the signature itself and its rejection by PSA/DNA, Darvick added, “The signed Joe Jackson book was signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as I stated in my April 1994 COA.” As for Darvick’s sale of the $23,100 Jackson forgery in 1990 he said, “At the time of my 1990 auction, no one, no baseball autograph dealer, no sports auction house, NO ONE questioned the authenticity of the Joe Jackson I sold.”
But Darvick’s claim that “collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before (his)” is entirely false. Before Darvick sold his cut to Lelands in December of 1990 there was already an authentic Jackson-signed 1920 contract on public display at the Chicago Historical Society in the fall of 1989. Darvick already knew this as evidenced in Bill Madden’s 1991 article about the Darvick sale which quotes autograph aficionado Clarence Jerabek as having seen Jackson’s authentic signature on that contract and on several legal documents. Jaribeck told Madden, “Through Shoeless Joe’s relatives, I got to see what an actual signature looked like. It’s on a copy of a drivers licence that is signed by both Joe and his wife.” In addition, Jerabek had already published an article about Jackson’s ability to sign his name in Pen and Quill.
By 1990, several hobbyists had also seen genuine signed documents owned by Jackson family members and friends including Lester Irwin and Joe Anders. Darvick actually contacted Jerabek before he sold his cut in 1990 as documented in The Sporting News which quoted Jerebek as saying, “Darvick asked me what I thought it was worth and I told him at least $1,500 to $2,000. When he went back to the owner, however, the guy told him to put it up for auction.” Madden said in his article that Darvick’s Jackson cut was “obtained by a collector from a relative of Jackson” but Hauls of Shame’s interviews with Jackson family members and Joe Anders, a family friend who was given the signed cache of legal and financial documents from the family, show otherwise. No Jackson family member we could locate ever sold a cut signature to a collector. Interestingly enough, Darvick never mentioned anything about the provenance of his alleged Jackson cut in his auction catalog and when we sent Darvick emails asking him to reveal the source of his Jackson cut signature he did not respond.
“Shoeless” Joe appears to have had difficulty signing his name regularly during his lifetime and its well-documented he avoided putting pen to paper whenever he could, thus delegating signing duties to his wife Katie. The verifiable authentic signatures attributed to Jackson on legal documents and contracts (illustrated in this article) are the only examples we can be confident are authentic. We’ll never be as sure about the other alleged signatures on baseballs and other mediums like photographs, even if they come with a PSA or JSA certificate of authenticity. At best, even with strong provenance, some experts will always consider these Jackson signatures “unauthenticatible.” One signed item, however, that is unquestionably authentic and signed by Jackson in the presence of his White Sox teammates is a 1917 team-signed letter to American League President Ban Johnson. The letter was signed by Jackson and every player requesting their share of the World Series receipts for their victory over John J. McGraw’s Giants. The document had remained hidden in the files of the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers Collection until Hauls of Shame uncovered it a few years ago while researching stolen documents from the same collection. The document is the most clear and convincing evidence that Jackson could and did sign his name along with his teammates on items that did not required a signature in conjunction with a financial transaction.
Aside from the iron-clad signatures on the legal and financial documents originating from Jackson’s family and friends, other more dubious examples have surfaced for sale in the auction marketplace. When the authentic- signed Jackson documents surfaced in the early 1990s there were several other signatures and fragments of signatures that were alleged to have Jackson family provenance as well. Three such signatures were found on the back of an envelope and another just signed “Joe” was said to have originated from a small note pad that once belonged to Jackson. The three examples of writing included on the envelope were originally sold in 1997 by Mastro & Steinbach Auctions as originating “directly from the Joe Jackson estate” and years later the envelope was cut into three pieces which were ultimately encapsulated and authenticated in three separate PSA/DNA holders. The “Jo” example was paired with a partial Pete Rose signature (“Pete”) in a PSA holder. The “Joe” partial notebook signature was offered in SCD by Frank Foremny in 1999.
In addition to the cut signatures manufactured from the one envelope (which are considered by most experts as genuine) both PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated another alleged Jackson cut that was purchased by the Leaf Trading Card Company and inserted into a 2010 Joe Jackson relic card. The card ended up selling at Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 for $26,290 with LOA’s from b0th JSA and PSA/DNA. In their promotional materials, Leaf estimated that the value of the alleged autograph was between $70,000 and $100,000. This alleged Jackson signature has been identified as a forgery by several experts we interviewed.
Another alleged Jackson signature was sold publicly for $72,000 at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 with an LOA (and Grade of 9) from PSA/DNA and Steve Grad. The alleged Jackson pencil signature was signed on a page from an autograph album that Legendary stated, “Has changed ownership a couple of times since its origin in the ’40’s” allthough it was originally acquired by a young girl from Greenville, SC., in that era. The woman, Sarah Taft, allegedly had Jackson sign the album but none of the other pages in the volume are signed except for one by her father Eddie Taft.
All of the experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the alleged Jackson signed page sold at Legendary is a forgery. In fact, one expert believes that the forger used the authentic signature on Jackson’s last will and testament as his template. When we asked Ron Keurajian about the signature, he referred us to his book which states that the only authentic Jackson signatures he’s seen are found on legal documents. One long-time dealer added, “PSA and JSA have no clue on Jackson’s signature outside of the obvious legitimate legal documents.”
In our next report on Jackson’s handwriting we’ll examine the photographs alleged to have been signed by Jackson. In particular, we will focus on the PSA/DNA authenticated photo appearing in Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction later this month and compare it with another Jackson signed photograph sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $43,000.